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Transcript of Question & Answer session following the Leader of the Opposition's address to the National Press Club: Great Hall, Parliament House, Canberra: 6 October 2004\n



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FEDERAL LABOR LEADER MARK LATHAM

TRANSCRIPT OF QUESTION & ANSWER SESSION FOLLOWING ADDRESS TO THE NATIONAL PRESS CLUB, GREAT HALL, PARLIAMENT HOUSE, CANBERRA, 6 OCTOBER 2004

E&OE - PROOF ONLY

Subjects: Election Campaign 2004

JOURNALIST: Laurie Oakes, Mr Latham, from the Nine Network, the national broadcaster.

LATHAM: I’ve got to keep my microphone on.

JOURNALIST: What do you say to those Australians who still aren’t quite sure about you. But who say you’re only 43, you can afford to wait three years and that will give you a proper chance to show your mettle and give them a proper chance to have a good look at you. And a second part of the question, you said in your speech ‘you can’t go wrong when you meet openly with Australians’. In that case, why did you ‘dingo’ on a meeting with those forestry workers gathered in Hobart on Monday, when you announced your Tasmanian Forestry Policy?

LATHAM: Well, on the second point, I was happy to have the meeting and my campaign team consulted with them and took other advice and a deputation met with me for 40 minutes and that was very appropriate and useful in the circumstances. On your first point - Australia hasn’t got three years to wait. If we wait another three years, we will have further declines in bulk-billing, further erosion of Medicare, further entrenchment of the two-tier health system. We haven’t got three months to wait, let alone three years, for decency and fairness in our university system.

If we don’t do something now, if we don’t have a Labor Government and get the Parliament back, and stop the 25% increase in the HECS, then the young generation of Australians are going to fall heavy into debt. We haven’t got three months to wait on that issues, let alone three years. So too, we haven’t

got 3 years to wait for fair funding in our schools. I haven’t got three years to wait to see the schools without libraries and computers, actually get some fair resources and a chance to educate their students. We haven’t got three years to wait for those things. We haven’t got three years to wait to finally have an early childhood agenda in this country that invests in our infant children. A reading program, the free day of care and learning through childcare and pre-school.

We haven’t got time to wait. Our young people are growing and developing right now, the Government has under-invested in them. It’s ignored this early childhood issue. They haven’t got time to wait. They are starting their young lives. They’ve got real urgency and purpose to get assistance from a Government, and so too their parents. We haven’t got three years to say to all those taxpayers under $52,000, the hard workers out there. The back-bone of the Australian economy, we can’t wait to say to them ‘you deserve a tax cut, incentive, an economic reward as well’. We haven’t got three years to wait Laurie, when it comes to the security of this country. We have wasted so much time and resources on the other side of the world, in a war that was fought for the wrong purpose, for a purpose that wasn’t true, that diverted resources from the real security of our nation.

We haven’t got three years to wait. We haven’t got three years to wait and have a long line of police investigations into what’s gone wrong in Asia. We’ve got to get stuck here now, and secure our nation in our part of the world, the real security of the Australian people. And on the economic front, we haven’t got three years to stand still, with no economic plan for the future - we’ve got to implement the ideas that Labor’s advancing right now. This is urgent work and at 43 years of age, I’ve got to say I’m ready to go. I’m in the prime of my life. I think most Australians would agree, you get through your 20s and 30s, you knock around a bit, you get the experience under your belt and then you go forward in your 40s and get stacks of things done.

Well, I’ve achieved a bit in my life, and I’ve got more to do for the benefit of the Australian people. I’m not waiting three years, if I can get their support, I’ll be stuck in, doing things for three years for their benefit, for the opportunity of our society.

I’ve believed in these things for a long, long time, and I hope that if I get the honour and privilege to serve as Prime Minister, I can implement them, as the head of a great Labor Government.

JOURNALIST: James Grubel from Australian Associated Press, the national wire service, to follow Laurie’s theme. Heading into this campaign, one of the big points of difference between you and the Government was your promise to withdraw Australian troops from Iraq, by Christmas. As a father of two young children, you would know, as I do, that Christmas is looming. Is that promise still possible to achieve? And why has that not been a central theme? Why has that hardly been raised during the election campaign?

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LATHAM: It’s been raised many, many times, and we’ve confirmed our policy and it’s eminently achievable and it will be implemented by a Labor Government.

JOURNALIST: Laura Tingle, from the Financial Review, Mr Latham. You’ve talked in your speech today about economic responsibility, and you’ve said ‘Mr Howard has taken the easy road, the irresponsible road, spend, spend, spend, running down the surplus’. Now during the campaign, you’ve regularly quoted the Financial Review, the national financial newspapers spend-o-meter and I just note that the spend-o-meter as of today … the Labor Party at $13.65 billion net spending and the Coalition at $13.59 billion. I just wonder why it’s OK for you to spend at least the same amount as the Coalition and for it to be economically responsible, but for it to be economically responsible for them to spend that much?

LATHAM: Well,the spend-o-meter of course, has been a useful device to highlight the great economic disparity in the campaign. The fact that the Coalition, for many days, didn’t have the savings beyond half a billion dollars and I noted that one day, they actually went backwards. Where as Labor has always had substantial savings, budget savings, to make way for our social investments, to do things in a financially responsible way. So, I’ve been pleased to give profile to the spend-o-meter through the course of the campaign and today I mentioned those figures again, $27 billion of Labor savings, the Government less than 10 per cent of that, $2.5 billion.

We don’t believe that the figures you quoted in the spend-o-meter are the right ones, for that reason, the Shadow Finance Minister, Bob McMullan will be putting out the full reconciliation of Labor’s financial proposals in the next 24 hours, so that everyone including the spend-o-meter, can see that Labor is going to have a bigger budget surplus across the forward estimates, some $2-3 billion and of course that takes pressure off interest rates, that’s a more responsible approach. But the great thing we’ve done, that Mr Howard has ignored is the importance of making budget savings, so that you’re on the job always - never giving up, on eliminating waste and mismanagement, producing Government efficiency, cutting fat out of the system and getting a better for the taxpayer.

Now, for the great size of the Commonwealth Budget, for a party, a major political party to say ‘oh, look, all we’ve found - especially after eight years in Government, is $2.5 billion of savings’ is a pretty weak old performance. So, we’ve done a lot better than that, and we will have bigger surpluses, through the forward estimates period, to the tune of $2 to $3 billion and as we all reconcile and get back reports under the Charter of Budget Honesty and produce other material, that will become clear on the Labor side, in the next 24 hours.

JOURNALIST: Dennis Atkins from the Courier Mail, a proudly Queensland newspaper, Mr Latham.

LATHAM: I know Queensland well.

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JOURNALIST: We all do. I was just wondering, Mr Latham, whether you believe that there is any honour in winning the campaign but losing the election?

LATHAM: Well there wouldn’t be much fun in it, would there? I don’t know about honour. I think we’ve run an honourable campaign. It’s been an honest campaign and of course we go forward, hoping to win the trust and the majority support of the Australian people on Saturday, so I don’t pre-empt the democratic result, I’m an advocate to try and secure a majority Labor Government and I’ll keep that up in a good honourable way.

JOURNALIST: Louise Dodson from The Sydney Morning Herald, I suppose the paper of the discerning reader.

LATHAM: Oh yes, on my lawn every morning.

JOURNALIST: Oh good, glad to hear it. You’ve said that the election campaign is a referendum on Medicare? But Labor Party ads have responded to the Government’s ads on interest rates. Isn’t this conceding that the Government has successfully scared voters on this issue?

LATHAM: Well, I think it’s part of our long running stance, that if there’s dishonesty in the public arena, peddled by Mr Howard and his Government, we’ll correct it and we’ve been running advertisements that promote our positive policies in education, health, taking the financial pressure off families. But if there’s a big lie that’s running in the public arena, we’ll correct it and that’s what we’ve done.

JOURNALIST: Steve Lewis from the Australian, Mr Latham. I won’t make any comment about who we represent. Could I just ask you a question about industrial relations? In this campaign -

LATHAM: Don’t be so modest.

JOURNALIST: In this campaign, the Government has been running a scare campaign both on interest rates and on industrial relations. They’ve basically portrayed you as being captive of the union movement.

LATHAM: Oh yes, yes, that was evident the last couple of days, wasn’t it?

JOURNALIST: Today, Kevin Andrews announced that I think, we’re now up to about 500,000 AWAs that have actually been implemented in Australia. You’ve said, if elected, you will get rid of those AWAs. You wills scrap them. Can you please explain how you intend to do that? What happens to people currently on an AWA? And do you accept that industrial relations is your Achilles heel in this campaign?

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LATHAM: No, far from it. I think industrial relations is one of our strengths, because it’s all about the Australian way of doing things, to debate similar to Medicare and the inclusiveness and fairness of social policy. Because Mr Howard’s got a philosophy that says that we want a dog-eat-dog individualised, industrial relations system - where Australians are set against each other, it’s an individual contest. Well I happen to believe in Australian values of cooperation and productivity, that people are best off working together in the workplace, in other social and economic institutions for the good of the country. We’ve got a system, an industrial relations policy that’s about flexibility, the flexibility that comes from enterprise bargaining, but also the fairness that comes from a decent award safety net and having an independent umpire, the Industrial Relations Commission, with decent powers.

So, it’s a question of philosophy and approach and I know there are some companies that have got AWAs, but around the nation, there’s still a very small proportion of the economy, some three per cent of all the industrial arrangements - so most Australian business people and certainly the majority I talk to, have said, have taken the view, especially small business people, ‘what’s the point here of splitting the staff up on an individualised basis, why can’t we work together?’ The small staff entitlement, why don’t we work together on a cooperative basis to get things done.

Our policy is to abolish the AWAs, we’ve passed the legislation to do that. The existing AWAs will obviously exhaust themselves out, given their time limits and thereafter there will be no new individual contracts under the Federal Government laws.

JOURNALIST: Mr Latham, Malcolm Farr from the Daily Telegraph, serving Sydney and to hell with the rest of them. The Labor Party has, in fact, totted up something like $29 billion in savings, which would be put to -

LATHAM: We’ve just gone up?

JOURNALIST: Yeah.

LATHAM: 29?

JOURNALIST: Yeah, you’ve gone to 29.

LATHAM: That’s the Tele spend-o-meter, journal of record.

JOURNALIST: Can we tell people how you could do that without losing jobs and services to taxpayers?

LATHAM: Well, obviously in abolishing agencies and cutting bureaucracy, there will be some job loses, but our purpose is to cut resources at the centre of Government and get those resources out to the families and communities on the edge. To move the allocation of Federal resources away from the centre, away from bureaucracy, away from an excessive number of

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agencies and programs, and get it out to the schools, the hospitals, the dental services in the vast suburbs and regions of the nation.

So, in those areas, there will be more public sector employment, more teachers, more nurses, more doctors, more childcare workers, more people doing the things that really matter to the fairness and opportunity of our society.

So, we unashamedly, make that proposition. That it’s about the re-allocation of government resources, budgets are about making choices and our choice is to cut at the centre and get those resources out to the families and communities right around the country who need them so desperately to build opportunity and fairness.

JOURNALIST: Paul Bongiorno from Network 10, Australia’s Idol.

LATHAM: Not with a scone like that. Turn it up.

JOURNALIST: We all have our dreams.

LATHAM: Yeah, even I admit politics is show-biz for ugly people. Let’s get real.

JOURNALIST: The West Australian quoted Dr Carmen Lawrence, President of the Australian Labor Party, as saying that everyone accepts that the Reserve Bank will put interest rates up after the election, no matter who wins. And is says, Dr Lawrence says she would agree with such a decision by the RBA because the cost of housing was getting dangerously high. Do you think there’s any circumstance in which you agree with the rise in interest rates? And also, do you know accept that the $600 that the Federal Government is giving out to families is real?

LATHAM: Well, it’s interesting you mention The West Australian. (inaudible) factor because the debate about the $600 came up with the highest profile in the campaign when Mrs Poor, from the Liberal Party, rang the Perth radio station and outlined her circumstances and there was a kerfuffle about that. But if you actually went and looked at her circumstances, they had the perfect case study, the perfect case study for why Labor’s policies are needed to help families and why that particular family most likely in their circumstances would be better off on the weekly and the annual basis. And the circumstances were these: the husband was a travel agent who had a base salary, I think it was around $30,000 and earned commissions above and beyond. And those commissions of course, which are very hard to predict, are exactly the reason why families fall into the family payment debt crisis. Because they can’t actually predict their forthcoming income and the system drives them into these unwanted debts and they have all the nightmare with Centrelink trying to sort it out. And also if their income level, which was around $35,000, that’s a good example as well, because

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that’s at the tipping point in the current means test set at $33,000. So, there’s a family who, under the current Government, if they try and earn some more they lose family payments, a real disincentive effect.

Under our policy, which takes the means test up to $50,000, no family debt possibility and all the incentive to earn up to $50,000, without withdrawal of family payments. So, the Poor family from the Liberal Party would be better off under us, better off under us. It just highlights the point that in their current circumstances in servicing their family payment debt, they probably don’t see their $600 supplement. It’s eaten up by those debts that would inevitably occur in a single income family where the income earner is a travel agent relying on commissions. Inevitably, this would happen.

So, in their circumstances and for the 1.4 million Australian families that have suffered these debts, of course the money is not real, because they don’t actually get to see it. And we know for a fact, from Cabinet documents, that Mr Howard sees this as some form of compensation. Some form of compensation for the debt crisis that he can’t solve. Well, Labor has got a solution. The solution I outlined earlier and it’s the best policy you can adopt to help families, poor and rich, certainly up to middle income levels around the country.

On the question about interest rates, the Reserve Bank is independent - both sides of politics of course, abide by their decisions. If a Government wants to interfere with the decisions of the Reserve Bank, you need to table reasons in the Australian Parliament, move resolutions and the like. Normally it’s regarded among economists that - that sort of action, try and overturn a monetary policy decision of the Reserve Bank would provoke so much uncertainty in financial markets that Peter Costello would walk in one day to table a resolution to over a decision of the independent bank. Their independence of course would be eroded and there’d be natural concerns in the financial markets.

So, both sides of politics respect the decisions of the Reserve Bank but the important thing in this debate is to note that they’re independent and that all the professional economists have been saying that there’s no difference on monetary policy between Labor and Liberal and Mr Howard, even in today’s press when asked about his claim that interest rates would be higher under Labor has had to say it’s a personal opinion. Well it’s a personal piece of dishonesty. That’s all it is.

JOURNALIST: Michael Brissenden from ABC Television, currently broadcasting live, I believe, across the length and breadth of this country. I wonder if you could name one thing that you like or admire about John Howard. And if you could name one thing that might be something good that would be his legacy?

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LATHAM: We’ll, he’s worked hard for his side of politics over the years and I wish him a happy retirement. That’s my stance on Mr Howard. No-one doubts his tenacity and hard work but even his best supporters recognise that his best years are behind him and given his failure to give a commitment to serve the three years of the next Parliament. Given the fact that he said at aged 64, he almost pulled the pin, the situation is obvious and I would have thought it would be honest and open with Australian people just to set out the transition, the (inaudible) plan to Prime Minister Peter Costello. So it’s a shame that hasn’t happened but obviously there’ll be a by-election in Bennelong in the next term of Parliament and I hope Mr Howard can make good, productive use of his retirement years and I hope that as a former Prime Minister he’ll be able to have a proper role in Australian public life and the respect and decency of his own party I’ve always afforded the former Prime Ministers on the Liberal side, and we hope he gets that at least.

JOURNALIST: Stephanie Kennedy from ABC Radio. In your speech you said that there are still a lot of voters who aren’t decided at this stage. Everyone would concede that it is a tight election, you’ve been campaigning for six weeks and really campaigning I suppose for ten months since you took over the Leadership in December last year. Why haven’t you been able to convince the doubters and the swinging voters that you have what it takes to be Prime Minister and lead this country?

LATHAM: Well, I’m hoping on Saturday you’ll find the answer’s in the affirmative. That’s the nature of a democracy, inevitably in our system there are people who are making up their mind in the last couple of days, different projections about the size of that proportion of the electorate. That inevitably happens whether it’s large, small or in between. It happens and the reason we’re here today is to advocate the case and point out our economic plan, our readiness for Government, the transition, the steady disciplined transition we’d make to office. So, this is the reason we’re here today. If it was all over, we’d be down at the beach. Give us a break.

JOURNALIST: Michelle Gratton from The Age in magnificent Melbourne. Mr Latham, we’ve seen over the past few months widely changing estimates of what the surplus is going to be. You made the point today that you don’t have core and non-core promises. Does this mean that if the surplus went downwards dramatically over the next couple of years, you would stick to those promises regardless of whether it was economically responsible to do so, or would you change your mind and find some of them were non-core? And secondly, there’s been a lot of talk about how John Howard should be frank about his future over the next three years. I wonder if you could tell us, frankly, that if you lose the election on Saturday will you be anxious to have another go in 2007?

LATHAM: Well, I’m not hoping to lose on Saturday. But one way or another I’m most likely to contest the 2007 election, unlike Mr Howard. On your first point, of course, we’ll honour our promises in full.

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JOURNALIST: Phillip Hudson from The Sunday Age. Today you set the ambitious goal of having the unemployment rate below 5 per cent. Would you have failed as Prime Minister if you don’t get there in the first term? And I’m also wondering if you’re concerned about the October poll curse. The past four October elections have all been fought by first-time Labor Leaders, just like yourself - Curtin, Whitlam, Hayden, Beazely and they all lost.

LATHAM: Well (inaudible). History moves on. History moves on and hopefully it will on Saturday. And the first part of your question? Oh, the unemployment rate. Well, obviously, we’ve set that goal. It’s important and given the substance of our economic progress plan for the nation, financial responsibility, skill and productivity investments, our participation incentive initiative, our support for small business and what really is a key part of the plan, and you never heard the current government talk about this, the need to tackle entrenched unemployment problems in particular parts of the Labour market. There’s a very high level of youth unemployment, mature aged workers, regional unemployment and of course the crippling issue of having more than 350,000 Australians on the dole for more than twelve months. Long-term unemployment feeding into long-term poverty, so that’s the really entrenched problem that we need to deal with and we’ve got the policies, we’re the only people talking about it, to provide a solution and give us the opportunity to bring the unemployment rate below 5 per cent. But just as importantly, ensure that we can bring down the level of long-term unemployment in Australia in a very substantial way.

You know from our Tax and Family plan and the work of the Melbourne Institute, we’ll be bringing in 72,000 people to the workforce that haven’t been participating. But we’ll also have others who’ll be able to participate in the Labour market with a job and that demonstration effect is the best guarantee of ensuring this problem of long-term unemployment in Australia doesn’t continue to pass from generation to generation. From granddad to father to son and daughters so they end up totally excluded from the economy in any productive form of social activity.

JOURNALIST: Andrew Fraser, Mr Latham, from The Canberra Times. While you talked with your Tasmanian Labor MP’s on Monday none of them were actually allowed to see your Forestry Policy document before it was delivered. I’m wondering why that was and what affect, you think, that document will have on your chances in the five Tasmanian seats, not just in terms of losses perhaps to the Coalition, but in terms of perhaps your own MP’s becoming independent.

LATHAM: Well, we had extensive consultation about our policies, that’s standard practice. But we’re not doing them for electoral reasons. We’re doing them because they’re right. And we want to ensure future generations of young Australians that don’t have to wonder what if that guy Latham in 2004 and 2005 actually did something to protect those forests that

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they were preserved, the high conservation value forests were preserved and actually got to see them instead of looking at tree stumps. That’s the thing that I want. It’s what I want as a politician and as a parent that younger generations of Australians are going to have that opportunity in the future. And I don’t want them to have to wonder. I’m not going to die wondering about it. We’ve advocated the policy we also have decent regard for the industry and employment commitments. So, it’s about that national purpose and something that we believe in and we’re very determined to get it right.

JOURNALIST: Chris Hammer from SBS TV, a broadcaster with a news that is broadcast nationally. This last week of the campaign has been dominated by the environment, the Tasmanian forests in particular. Is that a good thing? How do you rate the environment and the forests as an issue against things like Medicare and whatever? And within the environment, how important are the Tasmanian forests compared to things Kyoto, the rivers?

LATHAM: Well, we don’t set a pecking order. The three you’ve mentioned are huge issues - the international commitment, we’ve got to be part of the effort against climate change. If we don’t do that, if we don’t discharge our responsibilities, what’s the risk from global warming? That the coral bleaching and destruction of the Great Barrier Reef will continue and, again, our children and grandchildren won’t get to enjoy it. So, too, the flooding of Kakadu National Park with salt water - again, an intergenerational question of conservation and opportunity for Australians who follow us. And the Tasmanian forests - for the same reason, in the same category of ensuring that we’re custodians of these assets and we pass them on to the Australians who follow us.

I don’t place a pecking order but I can say this: Labor’s been the only Party delivering policies on the environment. Where’s Mr Howard on Kyoto? Where’s Mr Howard on the carbon trading emission system? Where’s Mr Howard on the increase in the mandatory renewable energy targets? He’s lost his Environment Minister, David Kemp, retired from politics partly for the reason he got rolled on that issue in Cabinet. Where’s Mr Howard with a plan to save the grand old river system, the Murray Darling. Where are these plans? He’s Johnny-come-lately on the environment what he’s been up to from day one - feeding stories out that he was going to stop old-growth logging, stop it. Now, I don’t know what exactly he’s done to you today but I rather fancy he hasn’t done that.

So, we’re going to have the unusual circumstance, the unusual circumstance in a campaign where a politician broke his promise during the campaign. I’ve seen politicians who’ve made a promise and broken it later. Mr Howard’s a great case study in that. But he’s set a new low in terms of political dishonesty - a commitment in the campaign sent out to newspaper outlets for the obvious reasons to say he was going to stop the old-growth logging. You can look at the headlines. If he doesn’t fulfil that commitment today he’s got a new world record of land speed for breaking a promise. He did it during the

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campaign itself. The man is fundamentally dishonest and shouldn’t be trusted by the Australian people any longer.

JOURNALIST: Mr Latham, Karen Middleton from The West Australian, the true heart of the nation.

LATHAM: There’s supposed to be no advertising on the ABC. So, all you viewers out there just ignore this shameless promotion by various media outlets and stick to your nice pristine view of the world without ads and all this clutter of commercialism and naked profits. Just ignore it, just ignore it.

JOURNALIST: Your opponents have been fond of reminding us during this election campaign of the fact that under the Hawke and Keating Governments interest rates went to 17 per cent. I’m wondering, what did those governments do wrong to end up with 17 per cent interest rates or wasn’t it their fault? And if it wasn’t, whose fault was it?

LATHAM: Well, Bob Hawke, himself, has owned up to that responsibility and admitted that the rates were too high and that was something he took responsibility for as Prime Minister. But isn’t it good to hear someone who actually took responsibility in public life for something that was a mistake? And if Mr Howard had any of that decency on Iraq and other issues, he wouldn’t even be running in this campaign. So, I mean, all those matters are on the public record and the history of it is very clear.

JOURNALIST: Paul Starrick from The Advertiser in Adelaide. If you win on Saturday, will you make a call to President George W Bush and what will you say to him and will you apologise for calling him dangerous and incompetent?

LATHAM: President Bush is engaged in his own great democratic contest in the American democracy and we’ll all await the outcome of that. No matter who’s the President, we’ll be working hard to keep the Australian-American alliance strong and we’ll have the contact opportunities that arise. There’s some prospect of that at APEC before the end of the year. But if the American election result is as close as last time, I don’t think President Bush will be there, nor John Kerry. They’ll still be looking at all those chads and other hanging things in Florida. Let’s allow our democracy to unfold. Theirs will unfold, as it always does, and our two great democratic nations will remain strong in the future no matter who wins on either side of the ocean. That’s been acknowledged on both sides of politics.

JOURNALIST: Mr Latham, Keiran Gilbert from Sky News. Has there been anything that you’ve regretted during Labor’s campaign at all?

LATHAM: In hindsight there’s always things in politics you’d do differently but that’s the benefit of hindsight. In campaign strategy,

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understanding what the other side’s doing, you haven’t got a crystal ball, you just get out there and advocate and put your policies in a straightforward way. So, I think we’ve done that in the substance of the campaign. We’ve done that well and it’s not a time for regrets, it’s a time for looking forward and hoping we can be honoured with the support of the Australian people on Saturday. But I’ve got to say, that these campaigns are very enjoyable.

It’s a privilege to advocate policy and talk about the future of the country. But it’s also very gratifying to be able to exchange views and interact with the Australian people.

The forum we had in Adelaide yesterday, 700 there. It’s been years since I’ve seen a gauntlet. One was thrown down, one was thrown down to me. I don’t know where you buy them from these days but, you know, a bit of colour and movement. But so many genuine public concerns about disability carers, people in disadvantaged circumstances, people we’ve got to help. So, all of that is a wonderful, positive experience.

There’s a lot in our democracy to really, really love and enjoy and for me the campaign period - I was saying at one stage I was hoping it wouldn’t end. It’s going to end on Saturday but for me it’s been a great experience and I hope the Australian people see it as a good experience and an opportunity to change the Government and do a lot better for the country.

JOURNALIST: Mark Riley, Mr Latham, from the Seven Olympic network, now curiously known as the Pauline Hanson can’t dance network.

LATHAM: I’ve got to own up. I can’t dance either. I’m a shocker.

JOURNALIST: Well, that’s three of us.

LATHAM: But I wouldn’t try it.

JOURNALIST: In your speech today, you made a statement that’s obviously empathetic to mortgage belt Australia, “that Janine and I, like so many Australian families, have a thumping great mortgage.” How big is your thumping great mortgage and did you get into those generous fixed rates before the election?

LATHAM: I’m not going to go into too much detail but if you know my personal background and the settlement of an earlier relationship and the fact that I’ve not only got the property at Glen Alpine but one here in, well not in the ACT, but in Queanbeyan nearby where I stay when the Parliament is sitting, I think you can understand that it is a thumping great big mortgage and it keeps me busy enough, even on my salary, to service it. So, without

giving you every dollar description of it, I think from what I’ve given you, that the history of it, you can understand that it’s significant enough for me to understand. In our street in our community, in our family to know that

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downward pressure on interest rates is an article of faith personally and politically.

JOURNALIST: Mr Latham, Ian Williams from Channel 4 News, British Television. I’d like to ask you about your Iraq policy, which -

LATHAM: I think you did the other day, didn’t you? Doubling up. What’s happened -

JOURNALIST: It’s ruffled a few feathers in London and Washington.

LATHAM: What, your report or my statement?

JOURNALIST: Your statement, I believe. Possibly my report. How do you answer your critics overseas who argue that by pulling Australian troops out of Iraq by Christmas, a month before elections, you’re doing a Spain, giving in to terror and letting down your allies?

LATHAM: Well, listen mate, three days from a campaign, I’m looking after my critics in this country without thinking too much about our critics overseas. We’re doing things that are right in Australia’s national interests, just as other world leaders do, and, quite frankly, it gives us no joy or pleasure that it’s our view if an Australian Labor Party been listened to then they wouldn’t have gone to war in Iraq for a purpose that wasn’t true. They wouldn’t have diverted all those resources away from the real task of catching Bin Laden and destroying al-Qeada and breaking up JI. Our security interests as a nation, as we know too sadly in recent times, are in our part of the world, in our part of the world, and that is the rock-solid focus of Labor policy. So, I hope people around the world can understand that. It’s what we need to do here.

Thank you.

ends

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